Le Gavroche is an institution in London. The restaurant first opened its doors back in 1967, moved a few years later and the current head chef, Michel Roux Jr., took over in 1991. Today, one feels that not much has changed, but in this case, it is not really negative.
The room is fantastically kitschy. Upon entering, one feels like in a 1960’s British Gentlemen’s club. Everything is fluffy, green and red, and the flowers only add to that feeling. The walls are hung with decorations, Picassos, Chagall’s, and what not. You just feel like in a time machine.
Service here is great. Very classical (no wonder), attentive, and always ready when needed.
To start the meal off, a glass of G.H. Martel 2004 Champagne was most welcome. To not leave us without anything, we were served a little game feuillete, and a tart, which featured slightly bacon and some apple. Both of these went down very quickly, and the game’s intense flavour was great. A very good way to start things off. Very good.
Next up came the bread. Baked in-house, this was absolutely great. Airy, with great crust, and good flavour. The only thing was that the texture between the individual breads did not vary greatly ( I suppose the same base is used, which is then treated in different ways). However, it was very good bread.
The amuse bouche was a piece of smoked eel, some chutney and a few cress shoots. This was good, as the combination of salty, smoky eel works great with a slightly sour, sweet eel. However, it wasn’t anything more than good, as this was pretty uninspired. Good.
To begin the meal, we had a bottle of Pinot Blanc 2006, from the great domaine Leon Beyer. This was most enjoyable. The first course was “kingfish” marine aux agrumes, radis noir au vinaigre et sesame. The combination certainly sounds rather nice, something slightly Asian, a little more “modern”. However, when the plate appeared, whilst certainly being the best looking dish of the day (after the dessert), the taste was a slight problem. The fish was of very good quality, no doubt, but it seemed a little out of balance. The puree, which must have been based on black sesame, and possibly some kind of radish or so, totally overpowered the delicate, fine, fish. The other problem were the very big pieces of grapefruit. As the fish was not seasoned (there was a little Maldon salt on top though), the grapefruit was another overpowering element (at least in such quantities). The daikon radish was nicely seaseond, but in general this dish was a pretty mediocre affair. There was no problem with anything like product quality, or technique, but it seemed a little like one was desperately trying to modernise things. Without great or any success. Bof.
But, things got better, much better indeed. The Veloute de Potiron, cepes et jambon seche maison was a perfectly executed classic dish. Normally the most boring thing that could possibly figure on any menu, this was an absolutely great soup. Incredibly intense in terms of flavour, prefect texture and seasoning. Wow, this was proper food, worthy of those 2*. The addition of a few pan-fried cepes and some fried ham was most welcome, as it gave the whole thing an earthy, grounding. Besides looking most unattractive, I loved this dish. The flavours were spot-on, the combination worked beautifully, what more can one possibly want? Very good.
Next up was another very good, very simple affair: Filet de rouget grondin, puree de topinambours et jus de homard. To clarify things, rouget grondin is not a red mullet (rouget barbet) but a rock fish. Usually it is used in fish soups in the south of France, this pan-fried version was very good. Simple as a dish, featuring only a puree, the fish and lobster jus, it was most successful. The fish was of top quality, with great firm flesh, taste and perfect cooking. The other elements didn’t disturb the great piece of fish, but rather let it express its own qualities. However, they were very tasty, which should probably mentioned. Very good.
To accompany the main course, we had a bottle of Mas Brugiere “L’Arbouse” 2007, which was an easy drinking wine.
The Supreme de faisan roti et cuisse farcie aux chataignes certainly did not disappoint. Very good quality of products again here, the dish was once again very simple, but very well made and tasty. The cooking of both pheasant pieces was not faultless, but very close to it. A few seconds less in the pan or oven, and this would have been fantastic, this way, the breast was a little overdone (although only very little). Taste-wise, one can’t really go wrong with a combination like this, and this didn’t disappoint. Again, we had good 2* food, which does not exceed that rating though. The jus should be mentioned, as that was particularly successful. In general, I found this a nice autoumn dish. Very good.
Since I discovered the Greenhouse’s cheese, I am always hopeful to be positively surprised in London. However, here cheese doesn’t come from the great Bernard Antony, but from Georges Vernier. This means that you get some perfectly decent cheese, but hardly anything mind-bloiwing. Overall I liked the five or so I tried, but can’t say that they were better than very good.
Dessert was about to be served. My companion believes that this is their greatest strength, so I was looking forward to find out why. Having had a very good meal so far, we let Enrico Molino choose dessert, and were not disappointed. We were served a Klein, Vin de Constance, 2004 to go with our sweet course. The passion-fruit soufflé with white chocolate ice cream was certainly a very, very fine soufflé. Whilst some would argue that the egg whites had been beaten too long (and stiff), flavour-wise, it was very good. Even if they wanted to dump the fabulous ice cream into the soufflé, we stopped it on time, and got our ice cream on the side. Why does every better restaurant in London (with the exception of ADAD) have to massacre its soufflés by at least throwing some kind of ice cream into them (in some cases even some caramel or other things, which really kills it). Overall this was again a very capable 2* dish, which didn’t go any further in terms of complication, or creativity. Excellent.
With the very good coffee we were served some very capable petit-fours. These were not only very well made, but also didn’t taste overly sweet. Very good.
Overall I was quite astonished. This meal was a sound 2* experience. I can’t see why many in England claim it to be 3*, but the overall quality of the cooking, and products was much higher than I’d have hoped it to be. Despite the fact that Michel Roux Jr. wasn’t in the kitchen (which shouldn’t change a thing btw), I had a very enjoyable, very English time. I think that this is a place, which everyone who comes to London for a while should visit, not so much for the food only, but rather for the whole experience. I doubt that one will find a place more British than this, with better food. It is really hard to find any faults in the meal we had, the only one being the very slight overcooking of the pheasant, but apart from that, this was a perfect meal. If one enjoys such a cuisine is another question. I certainly did hugely enjoy the food, even if it isn’t anything that will engage you intellectually or will blow you away.
Ah yes, in terms of pricing the whole thing seems rather fair. A lunch (with half a bottle of wine, water and a possibly a coffee) is no more than £48,60, whilst alc prices are around £100. What is incredibly fairly priced, is the wine list. Here one finds treasures at great prices. Glasses of wine start at a very fair £5, and a glass of 1989 Yquem (125ml) is no more than £90.